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Imagine you are in a village in North Kerala. You are returning home after the second show. The time is around 12.30 AM. You had your friend’s company till the banyan tree near the temple. Now you are on your own. The only light guiding you along the winding and treacherous road is from the moon side. The temple is closed for a week after the annual festival, and the legends advise people not to go near the temple for the next seven days for the fear of ghosts. (According to the history of the temple, Devi has gone to visit lord Shiva, and will be back only after seven days. So, the village is unprotected for these seven days.)

You pass the temple pond (ambalakkulam) and you could hear the sound of water gushing. You are slightly scared, still you look into the pond, and you see an old man in white dhoti washing his face with the cold water. You could feel the cold breeze on your face, and suddenly a chill runs through your spine.

The moment you open your eyes after a blink, the man is gone! You are startled, and the next thing you hear is someone following you.

Will you run for your life, or look back, or look for the old man?

It was a Friday evening. I slowly slipped out from my mother’s view, and tiptoed to the terrace. After ensuring noone is around, I climbed over the chimney. I have been severely warned and reprimanded by mom and dad against climbing over the chimney, as they say I may fall down and hurt myself. As I had no accomplices in this act, I had to make sure that none of my parents or the countless aunties  who  do part time espionage for them, are not observing my climbing over the chimney.

I took out the old pencil box from ventilator, and opened it. It had four teeth inside it. I looked at them with some sense of a valuable asset that I possess, and suddenly I could hear my mother calling for me.

I answered: “Yes amma… I am coming”.

I hastily closed the box, and hurried to hide it back. Sadly, I had a momentary lapse of concentration, and the box slipped from my hand and fell down. I ran, took it and by the time I could go back to hide it elsewhere, my mother saw me.

She came running to me, and I was struggling there, to hide the box. She asked me: “What are you doing?”

I was not a big liar then. So she could easily observe me battling out to cover up the situation. I have been told by my parents that if I lie, I will lose my eye-sight. So, I was a bit worried about losing my eyes as well. Still I showed some nerve, and answered:

“Nothing amma”.

Dissatisfied with my answer, she came forward and grabbed the box from me. She opened it, and I could see glasses shattering in front of me. I have been robbed! She just looked at me back, and then scolded me.

“For how many times did I tell u not to keep any of these things with you? Why don’t you understand? I had told you everytime to give this to the maid, so that she can throw them off after moulding it with cowdung (superstition)”

She took them and walked off.

Tears started rollicking from my eyes, and I cried and begged to my mother to give it back. She simply refused, and after making a few more unsuccessful attempts,  I declared that the battle has begun. The mode of retaliation was instantly discussed (with my alter ego I mean! I had an alter ego when I was a kid :P) with top priority, and good old Gandhiji’s mode of Satyagraha; the hunger strike was approved unanimously.

The time is 8.30. I had not relented to my mother, and I was really feeling hungry. There have been many attempts from the management’s side, to reach a consensus, and call off the strike. She tried to lure me by giving lucrative offers such as five star, gems, dairy milk, amul mike chocolate etc, which poured oil to my burning hunger. Still the demands from our side (My alter ego and I) were not accepted, and we decided to continue the strike.

Finally the ultimate authority, my dad came after a hard day’s slog at office. He is visibly tired. Management proposes this infront of him. He listened to her patiently, takes a light shower before coming to my room.

Stroking my head gently, he waited for sometime. Then he slowly raised his voice. “What happened dear son?”

I was eagerly waiting to explode. I narrated my version of whole story, sobbing. All efforts were made from my side to denigrate my mother and label her a cruel capitalist. I called for the unity of workers of the whole world!

 He listened to them patiently and approvingly. After hearing the whole narration, he told me: “Dear son, I accept that amma was short tempered and non considerative when she took away your valuable assets. But think about her. She is your mother. She also loves you. She didn’t do that to purposefully hurt you. There is no use for you with those tooth. Since it was something precious for you, I am ready to pay a compensation for it today. You try to work out, the compensation is going to be much higher than what you could have asked for it anytime.”

He has always been smart in fueling my interest while coming up with offers like this. Since I was really hungry by then, I was also waiting for some kind of opportunity to work out an agreement. I, trying not to sound too curious, asked:”What is it?”

He replied: “A game of chess and a light stroll towards the temple after dinner.”

I jumped in joy and said:”Yes!”

My mother was still gritty. She said: “He is hungry. He would have come for dinner anyways.”

This was too much to me. I went back crying, and praying in heart that dad would again give some more offers.

My dad scolded my mother, and then came back to me:”Dear, let us have dinner, and a game of chess, and then a stroll towards the temple and we will observe the night sky for half an hour there.”

I increased my demands:”I would come if you promise me that you are not going to take amma with us.”

He smiled, and then winked towards my mother, and said to me:”Of course, that is a part of our agreement. We, bad boys will freak out tonight!”

I was overjoyed, I came out, started singing my favorite song, and jumped in joy, and moved to the dinner table. The dinner was one of the most delicious one I had till then, thanks to my irresistible hunger.

Sometime during my 1st standard (has to be 1991).

I first noticed a slight pain on my incisors. My father called me and examined it. He confirmed that the tooth is shaking. He educated me that all milk teeth will be replaced by the secondary set soon. He also said that the child in us will gradually be clobbered to the subconscious by the monster in us. Though I didn’t understand what that meant at that time, I now understand what it means.

After a few days, the tooth was visibly shaking. I was afraid to pull it out, as it was paining a bit. I showed it to my father. He is a very patient and composed person. He told me a nice story, and as I got involved in the story, he pulled it out in one go. Out came the teeth, he gave it to me. I saw it, got so sad and started crying. I went and looked in the mirror, could see a big hole in the gate and was stuck by horror. I could visualize my friends poking fun at me the next day in school.

I was very rude at school when I made fun of a couple of my friends, one of them a bully, when they lost their teeth. I wasn’t smart enough to remember the repercussions of that otherwise harmless action. Now I started biting nails, had nightmares of the big bully turning pink and bursting into laughter.

Next morning:
Aim: I should not be a buffoon in front of my class mates.
Solution: Bunk the school till a secondary teeth replaces it.
Route: I have a stomach ache.

My mother, a scarecrow, got immediately scared. She told my father. He came to my bed, asked me where exactly I am feeling the pain. I said I am feeling it all over the stomach. Then he slowly tried to locate the pain, after some unsuccessful attempts from my side to pretend pain, he slowly realized the pain is somewhere else for me.

He asked: “Tell me the truth, do you have a stomach ache at all?”

I was in tears by this time again: “No!”

Father: “Then why did you lie?”

Me: “I don’t want to go to school”

Father: “Why?”

Me: “My friends would bully me”

The plot unfolds gradually. He sat beside me, and slowly said, “Son, what makes you think that a missing tooth looks ugly on you? It is something inevitable, and adds on to your beauty. In fact you have said that mutthassi (grand mother) looks good without the teeth. And what will happen if your friends bully you? It is just for a day or two, after which, all of you will forget them and become friends again. That is why children’s world is the most perfect one. “

Slowly, he took me on to his lap, patted me gently and waited till I get back to my smart mood again. He also promised me something special if I go to school and come back smartly.

I go to school with a bit of shyness, found things much better than what I actually thought. I could stand to the big bully (he was also toothless!) and came back running like Anil Kumble after guiding India to victory in a match with his batting prowess (hypothetical situation of course!)

I was half asleep by the time my father came back, and narrated the whole story. He was impressed by my performance and as he had promised, gifted me with a stamp album. I was so happy, I kissed him all over and went back to sleep happily.

16 years later:

My father is not there with me anymore. I am on my own, working in an automobile firm. I would not say I lie, but I am forced to say, many a times I tend not to reveal the full truth. They say all this is a part of work, where strategic relations are important. I get reminded of the Yudhistira- Dronacharya episode in Mahabharata battle.

It is all a part of the game.

“When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb”

Time: 7.40 PM
Date: 03/10/06
Venue: Lonavla Railway Station.
Characters in the scene: A nuclear family, guess they belong to the local tribe, and a whole lot of passengers waiting for the Mumbai bound Indrayani Express.

The lady looked very tired, and the kid very hungry. Their clothes were totally in ragged condition. They were sitting on the floor of the railway station (Railway stations are much dirtier these sides, thanks to the masculine community who can’t stop eating pans.Let them eat, but for God’s sake, stop spitting them on the floor!). They were waiting for someone before they can start moving. Once can see a saree clad euneche, with a lot of powder on his/her face, her long hair was braided with Jasmine flower (Culture shock: In Chennai, all the females wear Jasmine ribbons/braids, where as in Maharashtra, normally people wearing Jasmine are looked to in a different angle!)

Suddenly, a man comes to the scene. He has a thick Veerappan like moustache, a cloth bag on his back, and a stick on his back. He comes behind the lady.
“Bang!” A huge blow with his powerful hands on her head.
The lady is startled, and looks back, to see her husband fuming at her.
Before she could figure out anything, comes a stream of swearings in the vernacular language, for something which she was to do/not do.

The kid, who is hardly 5 years old looks scared. The patriarch is still fuming. To give vent to his emotions, he starts beating the kid very badly. The kid runs and hides behind the lady.The lady kind of protect him from the father’s anger. The lady is in tears!

After this assault, off he walks hurriedly, and the lady somehow gets up, takes the kid on her back and hurriedly follows her husband.

I felt like a useless, unable to do something against this outrageous treatment towards his wife.

But then what could I have possibly done at that time?

And the other people were not as moved as I was, guess for them it is something that is hackneyed.

Ms. Shobha De: Isn’t it yet time for you to get out of Page 3 and come to the villages, to help the needy?